pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The other day, I finally got around to taking all the words I had jotted into the margin of my notebook during the week-long Esperanto course in March and look them up the dictionary and make Anki flashcards out of them.

Two of the words I got that way were ebeno and ebenaĵo.

They were defined in my eo–de dictionary as something like “(Geometrie, Physik) Ebene” and “Ebene (konkret; besonders in der Geografie)”, respectively.

And yesterday morning, I had the insight that while, in English, both of those words are 𐑐𐑤𐑱𐑯 in the Shaw alphabet, 𐐹𐑊𐐩𐑌 in the Deseret alphabet, /plɛɪn/* in IPA, and presumably Gregg shorthand outline p-l-a-n in Gregg shorthand, the first sense is spelled plane while the second is spelled plain.

Funny how both of those English words correspond to the same German one; I don’t think I’ve ever connected them. Presumably they both come from Latin but one of them took the scenic route through France.

* (or however you choose to notate English phonemes; perhaps you would prefer /pleɪn/.)

GIP: Teeline

Saturday, 23 July 2011 09:38
pne: "Philip Newton" in Teeline shorthand (teeline)

Now, in addition to my Stiefografie shorthand userpic, I also have two in Teeline shorthand. This is the one that says “Philip Newton”—or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to say :) The proportions may be a bit off.

pne: "Philip Newton" in shorthand (stiefografie)

I got a letter in “Stiefografie” shorthand from my teacher the other day—seven pages long! So that took a bit of slugging through.

Now I wonder how best to respond.

In the letter, me touched several points that I would like to respond to… and my natural inclination, from email, would be to quote the relevant portion and then to append my comment on that portion immediately underneath, then the next quote from his letter and my reply, and so on; then any original material at the end.

I wonder how best to apply to that to paper mail.

I had actually considered photocopying his letter and actually gluing relevant excerpts to my reply lined paper (copy and paste!), but I somehow doubt this is common.

(Or simply photocopying the lot and writing numbers in the margin next to the bits I want to refer to, then enclosing the photocopy as a kind of “appendix” to my letter, inside the same envelope? [1])

On the other hand, I doubt he has a copy of the letter in his “Outbox” or “Sent Items” shelf anywhere at home, and presumably he won’t have the entire contents fresh in his mind by the time I get around to replying to him, so simply referring to his words (“As for what you said about X, I think you’re right on the mark. And the bit about Y: I hadn’t considered that aspect before! Very clever!”) without actually quoting them might be insufficient.

Makes me wish shorthand were encoded in Unicode so we could do copy and paste in a text-based environment :) Even scanning in his letter and my coming reply and merging the two (series of) images in a picture editing program, then sending the entire lot as a multi-page image or PDF somehow doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go about this.

What do you do when someone sends you a longish paper letter and you reply on paper and want to address several of the points in the original individually?

(I fear the answer is “I don’t get longish paper letters; all my paper mail is bills and short notices such as greeting cards. So the problem doesn’t arise.”)

[1] This method would also let me correct his spelling mistakes. Since he’s a former shorthand teacher and a regular user of shorthand, I was a bit surprised at some of the goofs. On the other hand, teachers are only human, too. And he has the disadvantage that he has learned several shorthand systems and they sometimes “interfere” in his mind, much like someone who has learned several foreign language might sometimes use a word from the wrong language when speaking “foreign”.

Most of the errors were shifting a sign up or down, thus changing the meaning since the implied vowel—symbolised by the height—selects a different word for the same symbol.

But there was one word that he consistently wrote half a step higher than I had learned it: I’m not sure where that comes from. Did I misunderstand the lessons? Interference from another system? Simple mistake that got ingrained somehow?

I confess that I’ve only gone over the summaries of many of the lessons, not actually done the exercises or read the sample texts. (If I had, I would have noticed something he pointed out in his letter: that a given syllable can be omitted in the middle of words. The description mentions five such syllables but the examples in that lesson show all six of them.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Duployan shorthand has been proposed for encoding in Unicode—primarily, I suppose, because it was used for writing Chinook Jargon and certain Native American languages, sometimes to the exclusion of other (e.g. Latin-based) writing systems.

I think it’s nifty that at least one form of shorthand might be encoded in Unicode.

Duployan is geometric, so something similar could be done for, say, Gregg, which is structurally pretty similar (lines and portions of ellipses).

Cursive shorthand systems such as German Unified Shorthand (DEK) or Stiefografie would probably be more difficult to encode, since in those, words are not formed by a succession of shapes which are simply concatenated, but instead, consonants are encoded by shape and vowels by the position of those shapes in relation to one another.

The document itself notes (on page 2) that Duployan is, at its core, an alphabetic (consonant & vowel) stenographic (simple line & curve) writing system (cf. Pitman shorthand, a stenographic abjad). DEK and Stiefografie would both be an abugida, I suppose: consonants have an inherent vowel (the default connection width and position encodes “e”), and different vowels are encoded by modifying the consonant.

There’s no graphic “vowel killer” like the virama, though: consonants are usually simply written very closely together if there is no intervening vowel, though in practice the distinction between “e” and “no consonant” is not necessarily made. But sometimes the connection changes if there is no vowel, so perhaps a virama could be useful; it would tell the rendering engine to use the special shapes (e.g. DEK “s” turning anti-clockwise rather than clockwise). I’m not sure whether special letters would be more appropriate, though.

For advanced forms of DEK/Stiefografie, which don’t simply connect units but involve things like starting higher or lower, writing one form above another, crossing through strokes, and other things, you’d need something a bit more involved than just encoding the consonants + combining vowels. It’s possible that the Shorthand Format characters proposed in N3895 might work for this—I haven’t read through the proposal properly (nor have I analysed DEK/Stiefo in this regard). I still think it’d be nifty if a unified DEK-Stiefo-Gabelsberger-etc. Unicode encoding could be devised, for scripts which are based in the same principles.

What I find nifty, though, is that alphabet-abjad-abugida all have equivalents in shorthand systems! Now all we need is a shorthand which is a syllabary. (Or perhaps one that’s based on logograms, though I suppose CJKV grass script [草書, 草书, cǎoshū, 草書(体), そうしょ(たい), sōsho(tai), 초서, chosŏ] is something along those lines.)

Really wild would be a pictographic one, but I really doubt that “pictographic” + “shorthand” go together at all—of the picture is detailed enough to be recognisable, it ain’t quick to write.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The card that I had sent, addressed in shorthand, actually arrived!

I got a letter from my shorthand instructor, in which he mentioned that fact; here’s the relevant excerpt:


Click through to the Flickr page for a transcription of the text into German as well as for a translation into English (in the image description).

(The letter is written in features of both grade 1 and grade 2 contracted Stiefo, but with many word endings—which are often omitted in contracted Stiefo—included for clarity.)

Shorthand speed

Wednesday, 8 September 2010 21:05
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I just listened to some dictation passages I had made for myself at rising speeds and tried to take them down in shorthand, to see what my speed is like.

I think 60 syllables per minute (about 45 wpm at 1 word = 1.4 syllables) is the limit of what I can do more or less comfortably. I was able to get down much of the 70, 80, 90 spm (50–65 wpm) passages, but there were always bits in between where I had to leave out words, and it felt a lot more rushed. (And I noticed that I still don’t have many abbreviations internalised.)

So. Better than the 40 spm I’ve seen quoted for longhand, but there’s still room for improvement. (And I wouldn’t pass a final exam of a shorthand course that requires 100 spm/70 wpm—and I think the UK, 80 wpm/110 spm is the requirement.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Today, I sent a postcard to my shorthand teacher, addressed entirely in shorthand. Edit 2010-09-10: it arrived!

Postcard addressed in shorthand

I used the Verkehrsschrift (basic grade) of DEK (German Unified Shorthand) for the sender and recipient addresses, since if any postal employee learned shorthand at all (which is what I’m wondering, and which is the point of this experiment), it’ll be DEK. The message itself is in Aufbauschrift II (commercial grade?*) of Stiefografie, which is what I learned.

I used a DEK dictionary to help me compose the addresses, since (a) I never formally sat down to study it, and (b) I find it rather complicated, and its abbreviations—even in the lowest “grade”—fairly numerous.

Brownie points if anyone can “decode” the addresses, the message, or both. (Or point out any mistakes I made, especially in the DEK bits.)

* The basic grade of Stiefografie is a lot simpler than that of DEK: it has no abbreviations at all, only a few signs for certain consonant combinations (nd/nt, ng/nk, st, sp, pf). Personally, I find that the second grade of Stiefografie is roughly comparable to the basic grade of DEK, and the third and highest grade of Stiefografie to the second/middle “commercial” grade of DEK. This, based on the number and kind of abbreviations used (which are very often very similar: I suspect that Helmut Stief used DEK Eilschrift as an inspiration in deciding what forms to abbreviate and how to do so). So Stiefografie has nothing to compare to DEK’s highest “speech” grade, suitable not just for dictation but for notating spontaneous speech.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So I’ve decided to start teaching myself Level II of Stiefografie (a shorthand system for German) now, using the self-study materials that cover Levels I and II. (I did Level I together with a teacher to whom I sent my exercises for marking, not least because I wanted feedback on my handwriting before I form bad habits.)

The actual abbreviations aren’t so bad, but the “leave off superfluous endings” bit is hard because it’s all so judgment-cally: what it superfluous? Present tense endings, for example, according to the self-study materials; apparently also the -t of the regular (weak) past participle, though that isn’t mentioned, as well as the ge- of the past participle, which is. Also, adjective endings and the genitive singular -s on masculine and neuter nouns “since you can tell that it’s genitive from the article”. Except when there’s no article, in which case the adjective would take a strong ending to show the case… but we’re leaving off adjective endings, aren’t we? Also, what about comparative and superlative endings on adjectives: do they get left off or not? So I’m beginning to reconsider doing it by myself and whether to ask for assistance from the teacher.

He did say that he’d do Levels II and III for €30 each—a symbolic price since shorthand is a hobby interest for him as well. (And it is cheaper compared to the €50 he asked for Level I.) However, he also offered free assistance via email. So I’ll have to see. On the other hand, for many things, it’s easier to spell it out, especially now that there are abbreviations: how to represent those unambiguously in ASCII text?

One problem is that I’m curious, so I’ve read the whole thing already, and several of the abbreviations from later lessons have stuck in my head, so I’m having difficulty restricting myself to the abbreviations I’m “supposed” to know so far (which is strongly recommended, since not doing so often leads, the materials say, to errors that are hard to correct).

So far, I’m trusting my intelligence and using some of the later ones, but only the more “obvious” (and stand-alone) ones such as nd for und, but not the more tricky ones such as “start half a step lower = initial mit-”.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

In my shorthand course, once you go beyond the basic note-taking script (which I’ve finished now) and onto the advanced, dictation script, your goal also changed from “make the shapes as precisely as possible” to “practise writing more quickly”.

To that end, there are several suggested dictation texts, which you can dictate to yourself at an appropriate speed, as well as a dictation test at the end of each lesson, which you are supposed to dictate at specific speeds (starting out slowly and getting faster—with the stated goal of ending up faster than most students can write, so that every student will be writing at the limit of their ability at some point during the dictation).

I tried to record some of those texts, starting with the test ones, the ones with the specified speeds, partly to see what speed I might be writing at.

Students are started out at 20 syllables a minute, and I found that rate nearly impossibly slow to dictate. I figured I must be able to go faster than that, even using the basic script, without any abbreviations at all, simply from the practice I got so far taking notes.

I also recorded a couple of the "free speed" texts, at various speeds, to see what my range might be.

Yesterday, I took one of those texts and tried to write it down from dictation, and I found that 20 syllables was easy, and even 30 wasn’t too bad. 40 was pretty much my limit in the basic script, writing out all sounds; many words I could write that fast, but there was the occasional one in between where I hesitated or took a bit longer to decide how to write it, and at 40 spm I simply didn’t have enough “slack” or “reserve” for them. So I figure that my current sustained speed—again, without any abbreviations at all—is about 30 spm.

pne: A happy dolphin emerging from water (amused)

I’m amused to find out that the same shape represents Aug’ (eye; a slightly poetic form) in Stiefo and Ohr (ear) in German Unified Shorthand. (Or you can modify it slightly and get the standard Auge and the slightly-poetic dative Ohre.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was reading a book about the history of shorthand, with particular emphasis on Germany, and in the bit about the evolution of German Unified Shorthand (DEK = Deutsche Einheitskurzschrift; roughly, a compromise of the two predominating systems, Gabelsberger [49.6% of shorthand users] and Stolze–Schrey [35.2% of shorthand users]), it said that when the system was presented to parliament, Dr. Theodor Heuss (who would later go on to be federal chancellor) said, “the new system is worse than Gabelsberger, and also worse than Stolze–Schrey, but unity is necessary”.

Damning with faint praise :)

That was in 1925, and the system is still in use in Germany and Austria; all other systems are insignificant by comparison in terms of number of users. (In Switzerland, on the other hand, Stolze–Schrey is the virtual monopolist; not only in the German-speaking part, but also in the Italian-speaking part, which uses an adaption of Stolze–Schrey for Italian.)

Still, I’m probably going to go on with Stiefografie; in particular, the use of broad and thin strokes in DEK (as in Pitman) seems unappealing to me, and unsuited to being written well with ball-point pens (for example). (Though I’ve read that even without this distinction, DEK is mostly unambiguous.)

Also, while the “Vereinigung Rationelle Stenografie” is pretty unresponsive, I’ve found someone who not only offers correspondance courses but also resells the learning materials.

Right now, I’ll wait and see whether the materials I ordered from the VRSt will arrive (he said that their unresponsiveness has been a constant source of irritation to him over the years, but apparently he has ordered things successfully from them before, it just sometimes takes forever; so I’m not writing off my money as lost just yet); then I’ll probably start a correspondence course with him. He also said that of all the systems he’s tried for German so far, he found Stiefografie to be the best.

I may end up learning DEK as well, since that’s what anyone else who knows shorthand at all is likely to know; on the other hand, I don’t suppose many people still use it regularly (or even know it) these days, and my chief use of shorthand is likely to remain notes to myself, in which case it’s probably more important to use something that is easy to learn and easy to read and write and reasonably efficient over one that’s standard but is more complex and harder to learn—even if DEK, in its higher levels, claims that very high speeds are possible, I don’t see myself taking dictation, let alone transcribing real-time conversation without pauses, so absolute speed really doesn’t seem like a priority to me.

So it’s likely to remain Stiefo.

Also, while there was a pamphlet on how to apply Stiefo to English, that was from 1977 and is surely long since out of print. But I found a booklet in the public library on how to apply DEK to English, and I might take inspiration from that to apply Stiefo to English myself; that’d save me learning a whole new system of shorthand. (Though I did find a PDF of a Gregg manual with lots of examples and so on… but I’m not sure whether I’d manage to distinguish all those similar strokes in my writing, let alone reading.)


Sunday, 28 March 2010 11:12
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

When I mentioned to Stella that I was considering learning shorthand, she said she had wanted to learn shorthand for quite a while, too, and that she would be up for learning it together with me.

So, perhaps we’ll have to see.

(My current favourite is Stiefografie; Deutsche Einheitskurzschrift may be more wide-spread and “standard”, but the use of pressure/stroke width turns me off a bit. And using something geared to German means both of us can use it. And I have no idea where I’d find information on, say, Gregg for German.)


pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
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